DVD Review: La Jaula de Oro

LaJaulaDVD1STUDIO: Kino Lorber | DIRECTOR: Diego Quemada-Díez | CAST: Brandon Lopez, Rodolfo Dominguez, Carlos Chajon, Karen Noemi Martinez Pineda
RELEASE DATE: 5/24/16 | PRICE: DVD $24.95
BONUSES: deleted scenes, short film
SPECS: NR | 102 min. | Foreign language drama | 2.39 :1 widescreen | stereo | Spanish with English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio  | Video | Overall

The best political films are those that never mention politics. Mexican filmmaker Diego Quemada-Diez’ 2013 debut feature, La Jaula De Oro, is just that: a modern neo-realist classic that condemns the world’s current anti-immigration trend, not with lengthy political diatribes but with simple humanity.

Quemada-Diez started out working for the great socialist filmmaker Ken Loach (Carla’s Song, Raining Stones), whose influence is all over this film. Exhibiting a deep compassion for its protagonists, La Jaula De Oro (literally: “The Golden Prison”) is almost a documentary—despite being pure fiction—following four Guatemalan teenagers as they escape the slums in hopes of reaching the American Promised Land most of us call home. Hand-held cinematography and an almost total absence of music make you feel as if you’re making the journey yourself, but it’s the genuinely human characters these kids portray that make the entire story so vivid and believable.

As you might suspect, much of this film is hardly fiction at al—the actors the actors all come from situations much like the ones their fictional counterparts exist in. A lot of the journey through Mexico takes place on trains, and the hundreds of migrants we see in the film are real, each with their own epic journey intersecting the make-believe one we’re a witness to. The situations the kids are put through—abuse by the police, being held at gunpoint by bandits, being shot at, and more—happen every day, and the film’s naturalistic style makes their suffering that much more visceral.

La Jaula picAnd yet, the film is also a fantasy—dreamlike at times, poetic in others. The recurring image of snow falling—a common enough part of our lives, and sometimes the source of our complaints—represents a magical land to these kids who have known nothing but cracked concrete and dirt their whole lives. Juan is the most savvy of the group, a determined individual whose goals are clear. His girlfriend, Sara, is savvy, too, but much warmer and humane. It is she that befriends Chauk, who comes from an indigenous Tzotzil (Mayan) tribe and carries with him a more holistic and open-minded point of view Juan resents. Each of their lives takes on completely unexpected twists, and each represents thousands of real migrants who have traveled along the same road.

The extra scenes provided on the DVD version of La Jaula De Oro are a great study in editing (as in knowing what to leave out) for they provide much of the back-story missing in the actual film. Interesting as they are, once you watch them, you realize how unnecessary the backstory actually is; for our protagonists, as well as the audience, the past is irrelevant, and their tales are that much more poignant because there’s so much you don’t know about them. The DVD also showcases Quemada-Diez’ award-winning short, I Want to be a Pilot, which is, interestingly enough, quite different stylistically from Jaula, though the themes are identical. Both portray underage victims of an imperial system thrust upon them through no fault of their own.

While Donald Trump spreads his xenophobic ignorance and Obama pays Mexico millions of dollars to keep refugees from entering our country, La Jaula de Oro is an artistic reminder that political decisions actually have consequences, the brunt of which is usually felt by the most innocent. Required viewing for everyone in Washington? You bet.

Buy or Rent La Jaula de Oro
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About Memo

Memo Salazar attempts many things and accomplishes few. His big three are making films, music, and comics, but he'll throw photography, graphic design and film criticism into the ring for good measure. He'll even make you a hand-painted t-shirt if you ask nicely. You can track his activity here when there's nothing else to do at work.